Anxiety or Corona Virus: Telling the Difference

Many people suffer from anxiety on a daily basis. And with the general public experiencing anxiety about Covid-19, those regular anxiety sufferers could feel that things have reached a new level of panic – perhaps resulting in a list of symptoms that are similar to those of the corona virus i.e. shivers, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, etc. for this reason it is important to know the difference between anxiety and the virus so that if you’re experiencing anxiety, you won’t run unnecessarily to the hospital thinking you’ve contracted the disease.

Although there are similarities between the two sets of symptoms, there are also some major differences. Even though individuals suffering from anxiety may have unique symptoms, they share a common experience: irrational fear and dread. If one is particularly stressed about the virus and thinking about a scary future, that’s likely a sign that you’re experiencing more intense anxiety than usual. This in turn sends your body into overdrive and brings about unusual symptoms that you may not recognise.

The more common anxiety symptoms include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear, and nervousness
  • Repeated thoughts or “flashbacks” of traumatic events
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Dry mouth, nausea, and dizziness
  • Excessive sweating or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Feeling restless, wound-up or on-edge
  • Easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness
  • IBS, diarrhoea
  • Difficulty concentrating

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with the corona virus exhibit three primary symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry cough

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), less common Covid-19 symptoms include: aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhoea.

So what’s the main difference between corona virus symptoms and those of anxiety?

  • Corona virus can cause a fever; while in some extreme cases, anxiety can cause a fever, it’s very rare. People with Covid-19 usually have a fever along with coughing and difficulty breathing; since anxiety doesn’t cause coughing, that’s another key distinction between the two.
  • Sneezing and a runny nose can occur with the virus but not with anxiety.
  • When a person experiences a panic attack, which includes shortness of breath, it usually lasts 20 to 30 minutes, hitting its peak at about 10 minutes. Someone with corona virus who is having trouble breathing will have that difficulty for a longer period of time, typically alongside flu-like symptoms.

It’s important to remember that it’s normal to be anxious during a time like this, and our bodies react in unpredictable ways under stressful circumstances. Before jumping to the conclusion that you have the virus, take a moment to evaluate if you have all the symptoms. You can also try deep breathing exercises which should alleviate anxious feelings but will not be possible with acute respiratory distress. If you are in doubt, when feeling short of breath, reach out to a medical professional.

Rizwana Ahmed
Clinical Psychologist

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